Florida, our aquarium and going vegan

Hey everyone, how are you doing?

I hope you have had a great summer.

It’s time for me to write another blog post. I guess I could write these more frequently, but I do find that blogging every couple of months about multiple topics keeps this interesting.

It’s been a busy summer. I took my holidays in July, flying with Brandi to Florida. We stayed in Dania Beach, Florida for a week. This was my first time in Florida and Brandi’s first in the Fort Lauderdale area. The main reasons we chose to vacation in Florida were the sea air (awesome for sinuses) and the beach! We went swimming and snorkeling almost every day, fighting against strong waves on several occasions.

Prior to going, we had also talked about scuba diving. Whilst I’m PADI qualified, it had been years since I had “got in the water”, and Brandi had never been scuba diving. We went diving together with a great company called Deep Blue Divers at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea (LBTS). Diving skills and techniques are something that you should refresh if you haven’t dived in so long, and I really benefited from the instructor showing me the ropes again. But for both me and Brandi the time underwater was very therapeutic. When you dive, it’s generally very hard to think about the stressful and confusing things that might be happening in the world, or in your own life. But it’s not impossible. Many of the corals we saw were dead (this is a problem for corals along much of the east coast and elsewhere in the world). I will return to that later in the post.

Scuba at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in July. Maximum depth: 23ft.

I felt like the Florida trip was a turning point in my life. One trip transformed me into a vegan, and this is why.

This was the first holiday I’ve had since completing my PhD. During my PhD, in order to meet deadlines, I was eating fast food and drinking energy drinks all the time. I strongly felt the effects of that on my health. The last year has been characterized by pains in my side, migraines and difficulties sleeping. It wasn’t good and I needed to change it. I’ve also have more time for myself since beginning this postdoc, so I couldn’t blame bad habits of time constraints.

Even before Florida, Brandi had lightly encouraged me to consider veganism, as she has been a vegan for several months now, but I’d been brought up eating meat and dairy, and I love pizza. In the past I just accepted eating meat and dairy as something I enjoyed, and so I did it. But since educating kids about climate change, I’ve noticed a change in my thinking. I’ve taught my students all about climate change and how they can mitigate it by turning off their light bulbs etc. But the truth is that agriculture, forestry and other land use contributes as much greenhouse gases (GHGs) as electricity and heat production. Plus, agriculture is the largest contributor of non-CO2 GHGs (cows burp and fart a lot of methane). People don’t talk about methane-caused climate change so much, because CO2 is the most ubiquitous gas that is released by human activity. But burning biomass and other human activities also release methane, and unmanaged livestock waste can be an important contributor too. In fact methane actually has a greater potential to change the climate than CO2. does. In fact, “methane has 25 times greater impact than CO2 over a 100-year period”, so if lots of methane were to be released at once, we would have a big problem on our hands (scientists are worried about that, as methane creeps out from melting permafrost up north and down south).

I felt like a hypocrite supporting the meat and dairy industries, whilst telling kids how to tackle climate change. In Florida, we watched a documentary called “What the Health“. You may have heard of it. It’s a great film and it advocates a plant-based diet. It presents a lot of evidence, showing the environmental and personal health risks of eating dairy and meat. Plus the images showing how these industries treat animals are naturally horrific.

So I did it.

In Florida I gave veganism a go. Mid-July to present. I’ve not eaten meat, and wherever possible, avoided anything with dairy in it for 7 weeks (trust me, the latter is very difficult, especially if eating out).

Brandi advocating the healthier life

I feel like I experienced the positive effects of the switch pretty early on, with the pains in my body pretty much disappearing after a week or two. I do acknowledge that changes in my health could also be due to cutting out energy drinks, but I would say there that going vegan has also helped me eliminate such things. It has given me focus, and I’m enjoying it but still sometimes crave pizza. However, other vegans have told me that at this point, if I go back to eating dairy, I would get sick. I imagine veganism will be a topic in future posts, so I will leave it there for now.

Since our return to Nash, fall semester at the SSMV has begun. I’ve got to meet our new freshmen, and the other students moved up a year. Last week, we took the students on a tour of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, where we learned how they use science to solve crimes.

I mentioned in a previous post that we are installing a saltwater aquarium in our classroom, and much of the last few weeks has been co-coordinating that. We raised the funds required for the hardware. Installation will begin in the next week. I can’t wait, and I think the kids are with me on that. Very soon we will have our first of many marine animals in the classroom (these will be two black-iced clownfish, one male and one female). One of the ideas that the sophomores had this summer is to grow our own food, and we’re going to do that. I’ve purchased the equipment needed to start a brine-shrimp hatchery. Grown brine shrimp will be fed to our carnivorous animals; this nutritious and healthy food option will save us costs of buying food from the store.

One of our planned residents: a firefish

I hope our aquarium (which will also contain corals) will educate the next generation about the oceans, and inspire them to love and protect it. To emphasize the importance of learning about the oceans, I showed students the wonderfully put together film “Chasing Coral“. This film talks about the scale of the coral bleaching problem (that I witnessed in Florida), which resulted in the death of 29% of shallow water corals in the Great Barrier Reef in 2016. Global warming is causing the corals to bleach, a phenomenon in which they go white and die, after having to expel critical algae that reside in their tissues and help them live. Please watch Chasing Coral for more information on this sad phenomenon, and what you can do about it! I think you will be in awe of their videography (http://www.chasingcoral.com/).

I will leave it there for now. Surely my next post will contain updates on our fully functional marine aquarium, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

Cheers, Jordan 🙂

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